- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Palliative care
- Common questions about palliative care
- Does palliative care shorten or lengthen life?
Does palliative care shorten or lengthen life?
Palliative care treats death and dying as a normal part of life. It does not try to shorten life, nor does it try to make life longer. Instead, the palliative care team provides services to improve your quality of life throughout the advanced stages of illness. This may include managing pain and other symptoms. Some studies show that if symptoms such as pain are controlled, people will feel better and may live longer.
Voluntary assisted dying
It is important to understand the difference between palliative care and voluntary assisted dying.
Voluntary assisted dying is when a person with an incurable condition or illness chooses to end their life and uses medicines specially prescribed by a health practitioner. “Voluntary” means it is the choice of the person to end their life.
Voluntary assisted dying is not part of palliative care.
At this time (August 2021), voluntary assisted dying is illegal in most Australian states and territories. In Victoria and Western Australia, voluntary assisted dying is legal only for people who meet all the strict conditions and follow certain steps. Visit health.vic.gov.au or health.wa.gov.au and search for “voluntary assisted dying” to find out more about the law in these states.
Voluntary assisted dying laws have been passed in Tasmania and South Australia, and voluntary assisted dying is likely to start in late 2022. The laws in some other states and territories are under review.
For more information and updates, visit Queensland University of Technology’s End of Life Law in Australia.
Some people avoid palliative care because they hope that a cure will be found for their cancer. Having palliative care does not mean giving up hope. You may find that you focus on the things that are most important to you, e.g. feeling valued, having meaningful relationships or receiving effective pain relief.
People with advanced cancer may have palliative care for several months or years and continue to enjoy many aspects of life in that time. Some people take pleasure in completing projects, spending time with friends, or exploring new interests and hobbies. Others make sense of their situation through a creative activity, such as art, music or writing.
As the disease progresses, your goals may change. For example, you might hope to live as comfortably as you can for as long as possible or you may have some unfinished business to complete, such as planning a family trip. Palliative care can help you achieve these goals.
Podcast for people affected by advanced cancer
Dr Cynthia Parr, Specialist in Palliative Care, HammondCare and Macquarie University Hospital, NSW; Dr Lisa Cuddeford, Clinical Lead, WA Paediatric Palliative Care Service, WA; Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Penny Neller, Project Coordinator, National Palliative Care Projects, Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; A/Prof Peter Poon, Director, Supportive and Palliative Care, Monash Health, and Adjunct Associate Professor, Monash University, VIC; Dr Kathy Pope, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Kate Reed-Cox, Nurse Practitioner National Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Juliane Samara, Nurse Practitioner, Clare Holland House – Specialist Palliative Aged Care, Calvary Public Hospital, ACT; Annabelle Solomon, Consumer; Silvia Stickel, Consumer; Kaitlyn Thorne, Manager, PalAssist, Cancer Council Queensland; Kim Vu, Consumer; Rosie Whitford, Social Worker – Grief, Bereavement and Community Palliative Care, Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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